Ask a PM: A Guide to Action Log Tasks and Activities

“Dear Elizabeth: What would constitute an action for the log versus a task in the project plan schedule? I don’t know where to put my tasks, and it’s confusing to have them in two places.”

This is actually a pretty common question; I’d say it comes up at least once a month! So, first: know that you are not alone in wondering what goes on the project schedule and what tasks are better suited to a to-do list or action log.

Let’s look at the purpose of the schedule and the action log to start with, and then we’ll dive into what goes into each.

The project schedule

The project schedule is your single place to list tasks that drive the project forward.

It’s also the file you use to manage relationships between tasks (dependencies) and task ownership, as individuals will be allocated to tasks on the schedule.

The schedule, therefore, combines what there is to do and who is available to do it. You can use that information to make sure people aren’t overloaded with too many tasks (or, conversely, sitting around waiting for work to come to them). Resource leveling is just one of the many things you can do with a schedule built on robust project management software.

The project schedule also includes milestones and deadlines. These give you a visual reminder of when activities need to be completed. From that, you can work out the risk of not meeting those dates.

Overall, the project schedule is the main way to track project performance and monitor progress. When you see tasks aren’t being completed to the planned dates, you can make adjustments to the schedule, workload, and project approach to accommodate what is happening within the team.

The project schedule is what I call a ‘living document’. It’s something that is updated regularly, often daily, especially as the project moves into the delivery phases.

While the project schedule might not have a lot of detail about future stages of the project, it generally includes some high-level tasks, so it gives you the big picture and the roadmap for where the project is going.

The action log

The action log is a kind of joint project team to-do list. You use it to record tasks that the project team members are going to do so that they don’t forget to do them. Typically, this list doesn’t include things that need to be done months in advance. Instead, it’s a place to document what is important to you now, based on current issues and discussions.

Action logs can take many forms, from a simple spreadsheet to the built-in task management features of your project management software. Most enterprise-grade project tools offer the option to have separate to-do lists as well as scheduled project tasks.

Ideally, the action log should be something you keep as the project manager, and you use in project team meetings to check in with the team. It is the single source of all meeting actions, corridor conversation tasks, and to-do’s that come in on email. You copy and paste all those things into one single location, so you’ve got visibility of all the non-scheduled work.

It’s even better if everyone else can see these tasks, but in my experience, it’s just as easy

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